Emmerdale's Emma Atkins on Charity's latest storyline: It'll be ugly and upsetting... the past will keep coming
Emmerdale will delve deep into Charity Dingle's history as she opens up to girlfriend Vanessa about abuse she suffered as a teenager. What will all this mean for their relationship? Emma Atkins and Michelle Hardwick tell Georgia Humphreys more about the dark storyline.
Charity Dingle has had more than her fair share of Emmerdale drama in the past two decades.
Gripping fans with storylines such as the arrival of her long-lost daughter, Debbie, and an on-off relationship with second cousin Cain, never mind numerous affairs and stints in prison, it's no surprise that Emma Atkins has become a soap staple.
On ITV next week, from Monday April 9, viewers will finally find out more about her character's traumatic past.
"I'm nervous as hell - it's not just dialogue of one line and then a response; it's delving really deeply into someone's history," says Atkins (43), ahead of filming. "It'll be exposing, ugly and upsetting."
While the exact details of the storyline have been left vague for now, Atkins, who grew up in Lancashire, discloses that Charity went through "serious abuse of some kind" when she was 14.
Her past comes back to haunt her through the character of Tracy Metcalfe (Amy Walsh), who was recently forced to reveal she used to work as a prostitute.
A former client called Phil tried to blackmail her into sleeping with him again, threatening to reveal her past, but she reported him to the police and her went on trial for his crimes.
After offering her support to Tracy when Phil is sentenced, Charity suddenly turns cold, which causes her girlfriend, Vanessa Woodfield (played by Michelle Hardwick), to question her behaviour.
Then Charity starts opening up - and the secrets come spilling out.
"I think for the first time ever we are going to see why Charity is as she is," says Hardwick, who previously starred in ITV drama series The Royal.
"The one person who can tap into her at this point in her life is Vanessa."
Of the new information about her past, Atkins offers: "This may also explain why Charity has decided that being in love with a woman is a much less complicated situation at the moment."
New couple Vanessa and Charity only declared their feelings for each other at the end of January.
Fans have been really getting behind the pairing - the affectionate couple name is 'Vanity' - and a number of viewers have messaged the actresses on social media to say thanks for helping them come out as gay.
This, the stars say, means there's a certain amount of responsibility in acting out the storyline, especially for Hardwick, who has been in that situation herself.
"I came out to my family when I was 28 or 29," says the 42-year-old actress, who joined Emmerdale in 2012.
"I didn't have the courage to do that before. But then again, I had no role model then to look up to when I was 18. There was nobody really, so that is why I have been very upfront and honest and shared my story."
Viewers have also seen how Vanessa has changed Charity (who was known in the past as one of soapland's more, well, manipulative characters), with Atkins calling the relationship "genuine and kind and loving".
"Charity's perhaps not been used to that," she adds. "She's often been the unkind one and she's found herself maybe being a bit nicer."
But how does Vanessa react to Charity's sudden revelations about her childhood?
"She is shocked and in absolute awe of how Charity has become the woman that she is today and that she isn't a broken woman," says Wakefield-born Hardwick.
"She is proud of her and just wants to be there for her. Vanessa falls for her even deeper."
While Vanessa is glad she's the person Charity has confided in, it's more difficult for her once she finds out that no one else knows the full extent of the abuse.
"It's an 'Oh my God!' moment for Vanessa, and she has all of that on her shoulders, so when she finds out everything, what does she do?" Hardwick asks.
"That's the next step and her burden is, what is the right thing to do?
"Will she then do something that could jeopardise the relationship?"
Discussing where we will see the storyline head in the future for Charity, Atkins says: "I think the past will keep coming. Just as she is coming to terms with one thing, I don't think it's going to stop there - it's going to run for some time.
"Things keep emerging. It's not like the history comes out with one episode and then it's dealt with - it's an ongoing trauma."
Although she had a four-year break away from the soap between 2005 and 2009, and later went on maternity leave for two years, Atkins first introduced us to Charity all the way back in 2000.
Only just discovering such big things about her character after playing her for so long has been eye-opening.
"I knew she had an ugly past, and reading it, it does all make sense," she says.
"It really explains why she behaves the way she behaves, why she maybe pushes people away or does catastrophic things, because she is an out-of-control mentally. It's a wonderful thing to embrace as actors."
Emmerdale weeknights, ITV, 7pm